Part 2 out of 3
"What," I asked, "did the child mean by getting a smacking last week?"
"Oh," he answered, "the kid gets pretty hungry, I suppose, and t'other
day when she was playin' with the Jones child, there in the same house,
Mrs. Jones asks her to come in and have some dinner; and as she lifted
one of the covers from the cooking-stove, the kid says: 'My, you must be
awful rich, you make a fire at both ends of your stove at once. My mamma
only makes a fire under just one hole, 'cause we don't have anything
much to cook now 'cept tea.' The speech reached the mother's ears, and
she smacked the child for lettin' on to any one how poor they are. Lord,
no, Miss, she dar'sent take no money, though God knows they need it bad
With dim eyes I hurriedly scribbled a line on a bit of wrapping paper,
saying:--"This little girl has played her part so nicely that I want her
to have something to remember the occasion by, and since I shall not be
in the city to-morrow, and cannot select anything myself, I must ask you
to act for me." Then I folded it about a green note, and calling back
the child, I turned her about and pinned both written message and money
to the back of her apron. The little creature understood the whole thing
in a flash. She danced about joyously: "Oh, Sam," she cried, "the lady's
gived me a present, and I can't help myself, can I?"
And Sam wiped his hand on his breeches leg, and, clearing his throat
hard, asked "if I'd mind shakin' hands?"
And I didn't mind it a bit. Then, with clumsy care, he wrapped the child
in her thin bit of a cape, and led her back to that home which gave
lodgement to both poverty and pride.
While the play was new, in the very first engagement outside of New
York, I had a very little child for that scene. She was flaxen blond,
and her mother had dressed her in bright sky-blue, which was in itself
an odd colour for a little boy to wear. Then the small breeches were so
evidently mother-made, the tiny bits of legs surmounted with such an
enormous breadth of seat, the wee Dutch-looking blue jacket, and the
queer blue cap on top of the flaxen curls, gave the little creature the
appearance of a Dutch doll. The first sight of her, or, perhaps, I
should say "him," the first sight of him provoked a ripple of merriment;
but when he turned full about on his bits of legs and toddled up stage,
giving a full, perfect view of those trousers to a keenly observant
public, people laughed the tears into their eyes. And this baby noted
the laughter, and resented it with a thrust-out lip and a frowning knit
of his level brows that was funnier than even his blue clothing--and
after that one Parthian glance at the audience, he invariably toddled to
me, and hid his face in my dress. From the very first night the child
was called "Little Breeches," and to this day I know her by no other
Time passed by fast--so fast; years came, years went. "Miss Multon" had
been lying by for a number of seasons. "Renee de Moray," "Odette,"
"Raymonde," etc., had been in use; then some one asked for "Miss
Multon," and she rose obediently from her trunk, took her manuscript
from the shelf, and presented herself at command. One evening, in a
Southern California city, as I left my room ready for the first act of
this play, the door-man told me a young woman had coaxed so hard to see
me, for just one moment, that ignoring orders he had come to ask me if
he might bring her in; she was not begging for anything, just a moment's
interview. Rather wearily I gave permission, and in a few moments I saw
him directing her toward me. A very slender, very young bit of a woman,
a mere girl, in fact, though she held in her arms a small white bundle.
As she came smilingly up to me, I perceived that she was very blond. I
bowed and said "Good evening" to her, but she kept looking in smiling
silence at me for a moment or two, then said eagerly, "Don't you know
me, Miss Morris?"
I looked hard at her. "No," I said; "and if I have met you before, it's
strange, for while I cannot remember names, my memory for faces is
"Oh," she said, in deep disappointment, "can't you remember me at
all--not at all?"
Her face fell, she pushed out her nether lip, she knit her level,
I leaned forward suddenly and touched her hand, saying, "You are
not--you can't be--my little--"
"Yes, I am," she answered delightedly. "I am Little Breeches."
"And this?" I asked, touching the white bundle.
"Oh," she cried, "this is _my_ Little Breeches; but I shan't dress him
in bright blue."
"Good heavens!" I exclaimed, "how old are you, and how old am I?"
"Well," she replied, "I'm almost eighteen, and as you look just exactly
as you did when I saw you last, it doesn't matter, so far as I can see,
how many years have passed." (Oh, clever Little Breeches!)
Then, having had Little Breeches 2d kissed and honestly admired, she
trotted away satisfied; and only as I made my entrance on the stage did
it occur to me that I had not asked her name; so she ends as she began,
simply Little Breeches.
THE STAGE AS AN OCCUPATION FOR WOMEN_
In looking over my letters from the gentle "Unknown," I find that the
question, "What advantage has the stage over other occupations for
women?" is asked by a Mrs. Some One more often than by the more
impulsive and less thoughtful girl writer, and it is put with frequency
Of course there is nothing authoritative in these answers of mine,
nothing absolute. They are simply the opinion of one woman, founded upon
personal experience and observation. We must, of course, to begin
with, eliminate the glamour of the stage--that strange, false lustre, as
powerful as it is intangible--and consider acting as a practical
occupation, like any other. And then I find that in trying to answer the
question asked, I am compelled, after all, to turn to a memory.
I had been on the stage two years when one day I met a schoolmate. Her
father had died, and she, too, was working; but she was bitterly envious
of my occupation. I earnestly explained the demands stage wardrobe made
upon the extra pay I drew; that in actual fact she had more money for
herself than I had. Again I explained that rehearsals, study, and
preparation of costumes required time almost equal to her working hours,
with the night work besides; but she would not be convinced.
"Oh, don't you see," she cried, "I am at service, that means I'm a
dependant, I labour for another. You serve, yes, but you labour for
yourself," and lo! she had placed her stubby little finger upon the sore
spot in the working-woman's very heart, when she had divined that in the
independence of an actress lay her great advantage over other workers.
Of course this independence is not absolute; but then how many men there
are already silver-haired at desk or bench or counter who are still
under the authority of an employer! Like these men, the actress's
independence is comparative; but measured by the bondage of other
working-women, it is very great. We both have duties to perform for
which we receive a given wage, yet there is a difference. The
working-girl is expected to be subservient, she is too often regarded as
a menial, she is ordered. An actress, even of small characters, is
considered a necessary part of the whole. She assists, she attends, she
obliges. Truly a difference.
Again, women shrink with passionate repugnance from receiving orders
from another woman; witness the rarity of the American domestic. A pity?
Yes; but what else can you expect? The Americans are a dominant race.
Free education has made all classes too nearly equal for one woman to
bend her neck willingly and accept the yoke of servitude offered by
And even this is spared to the actress, since her directions are more
often received from the stage manager or manager than from a woman star.
True, her life is hard, she has no home comforts; but, then, she has no
heavy duties to perform, no housework, bed-making, sweeping,
dish-washing, or clothes-washing, and when her work is done, she is her
own mistress. She goes and comes at her own will; she has time for
self-improvement, but best of all she has something to look forward to.
That is a great advantage over girls of other occupations, who have such
a small chance of advancement.
Some impetuous young reader who speaks first and thinks afterward may
cry out that I am not doing justice to the profession of acting, even
that I discredit it in thus comparing it with humble and somewhat
mechanical vocations; so before I go farther, little enthusiasts, let me
remind you of the wording of this present query. It does not ask what
advantage has acting over other professions, over other arts, but "What
advantage has it over other occupations for women?"
A very sweeping inquiry, you see; hence this necessary comparison with
shop, factory, and office work. As to the other professions, taking, for
instance, law or medicine, preparations for practice must be very
costly. A girl puts her family to a great strain to pay her college
expenses, or if some family friend advances funds, when she finally
passes all the dreaded examinations, and has the legal right to hang out
her shingle, she starts in the race of life handicapped with crushing
The theatre is, I think, the only place where a salary is paid to
students during all the time they are learning their profession; surely
a great, a wonderful advantage over other professions to be
self-sustaining from the first.
Then the arts, but ah! life is short and art, dear Lord, art is long,
almost unto eternity. And she who serves it needs help, much help, and
then must wait, long and wearily, for the world's response and
recognition, that, even if they come, are apt to be somewhat uncertain,
unless they can be cut on a marble tomb; then they are quite positive
and hearty. But in the art of acting the response and recognition come
swift as lightning, sweet as nectar, while you are young enough to enjoy
and to make still greater efforts to improve and advance.
So it seems to me the great advantage of acting over work is one's
independence, one's opportunity to improve oneself. Its advantage over
the professions is that it is self-sustaining from the start. Its
advantage over the arts is its swift reward for earnest endeavour.
It must be very hard to endure the contempt so often bestowed upon the
woman who simply serves. I had a little taste of it once myself; and
though it was given me by accident, and apologies and laughter followed,
I remember quite well that even that tiny taste was distinctly
unpleasant--yes, and bitter. I was abroad with some very intimate
friends, and Mrs. P----, an invalid, owing to a mishap, was for some
days without a maid. We arrived in Paris hours behind time, late at
night, and went straight to our reserved rooms, seeing no one but some
Early next morning, going to my friends' apartments, I came upon this
piteous sight: Mrs. P----, who had a head of curly hair, was not only
without a maid, but also without the use of her right arm. The fame of
Charcot had brought her to Paris. Unless she breakfasted alone, which
she hated, her hair must be arranged. Behold, then, the emergency for
which her husband, Colonel P----, had, boldly not to say recklessly,
offered his services.
I can see them now. She, with clenched teeth of physical suffering and
uplifted eye of the forgiving martyr, sat in combing jacket before him;
and he, with the maid's white apron girt tight about him just beneath
his armpits, had on his soldierly face an expression of desperate
resolve that suggested the leading of a forlorn hope. A row of hair-pins
protruded sharply from between his tightly closed lips; a tortoise-shell
back-comb, dangling from one side of his full beard where he placed it
for safety, made this amateur hairdresser a disturbing sight both for
gods and men.
With legs well braced and far apart, his arms high lifted like outspread
wings, he wielded the comb after the manner of a man raking hay. For one
moment all my sympathy was for the shrinking woman; then, when
suddenly, in despite of the delicious morning coolness, a great drop of
perspiration splashed from the Colonel's corrugated brow, down into the
obstreperous curly mass he wrestled with, I pitied him, too, and
"Oh, I'll do that. Take care, you'll swallow a pin or two if you
contradict me. Your spirit is willing, Colonel, but your flesh, for all
you have such a lot of it, is weak, when you come to hair-dressing!"
And regardless of his very earnest protest, I took the tangled,
tormented mass in hand and soon had it waving back into a fluffy knot;
and just as I was drawing forth some short locks for the forehead, there
came a knock and in bounced the mistress of the house, our landlady,
Mme. F----, who, missing our arrival the night before, came now to bid
us welcome and inquire as to our satisfaction with arrangements, etc.
She was a short woman, of surprising breadth and more surprising
velocity of speech. She could pronounce more words to a single breath
than any other person I have ever met. She was German by birth, and
spoke French with a strong German accent, while her English was a thing
to wring the soul, sprinkled as it was with German "unds," "ufs," and
"yousts," and French "zees" and "zats." Our French being of the slow and
precise kind, and her English of the rattling and at first
incomprehensible type, the conversation was somewhat confused. But even
so, my friends noticed with surprise, that Madame did not address one
word of welcome to me. They hastened to introduce me, using my married
A momentary annoyance came into her face, then she dropped her lids
haughtily, swept me from head to foot with one contemptuous glance, and
without even the faintest nod in return to my "Bon jour, Madame," she
turned to Mrs. P----, who, red with indignation, was trying to sputter
out a demand for an explanation, and asked swiftly:--
"Und zat ozzer lady? you vas to be t'ree--n'est-ce pas? She hav' not
com' yed? to-morrow, perhaps, und--und" (I saw what was coming, but my
companions suspected nothing), "und"--she dropped her lids again and
indicated me with a contemptuous movement of the head--"she, zat maid,
you vant to make arrange for her? You hav' not write for room for zat
I leaned from the window to hide my laughter, for it seemed to me that
Colonel P---- jumped a foot, while the cry of his wife drowned the sound
of the short, warm word that is of great comfort to angry men. Before
they could advance one word of explanation, an aproned waiter fairly
burst into the room, crying for "Madame! Madame! to come quick, for that
Jules was at it very bad again!" And she wildly rushed out, saying over
her shoulder, "By und by we zee for zat maid, und about zat udder lady,
by und by also," and so departed at a run with a great rattling of
starch and fluttering of cap ribbons; for Jules, the head cook, already
in the first stages of delirium tremens, was making himself interesting
to the guests by trying to jump into the fountain basin to save the
lives of the tiny ducklings, who were happily swimming there, and Madame
F---- was sorely needed.
Yes, I laughed--laughed honestly at the helpless wrath of my friends,
and pretended to laugh at the mistake; but all the time I was saying to
myself, "Had I really been acting as maid, how cruelly I should have
suffered under that contemptuous glance and from that withheld bow of
recognition." She had found me well-dressed, intelligent, and
well-mannered; yet she had insulted me, because she believed me to be a
lady's maid. No wonder women find service bitter.
We had retired from the breakfast room and were arranging our plans for
the day, when a sort of whirlwind came rushing through the hall, the
door sprang open almost without a pronounced permission, and Madame
F---- flung herself into the room, caught my hands in hers, pressed them
to her heart, to her lips, to her brow, wept in German, in French, in
English, and called distractedly upon "Himmel!" "Ciel!" and "Heaven!"
But she found her apologies so coldly received by my friends that she
was glad to turn the flood of her remorse in my direction, and for very
shame of the scene she was making I assured her the mistake was quite
pardonable--as it was. It was her manner that was almost unpardonable.
Then she added to my discomfort by bursting out with fulsome praise of
me as an actress; how she had seen me and wept, and so on and on, she
being only at last walked and talked gently out of the room.
But that was not the end of her remorse. A truly French bouquet with its
white paper petticoat arrived in about an hour, "From the so madly
mistooken Madame F----," the card read, and that act of penance was
performed every morning as long as I remained in Paris. But one day she
appealed to the Colonel for pity and sympathy.
"Ah!" said she, "I hav' zee two tr'ubles, zee two sorrows! I hav' zee
grief to vound zee feelin's of zat so fine actrice Americaine--zat ees
one tr'ubles, und den I hav' zee shame to mak' zat grande fool
meestak'--oh, mon Dieu! I tak' her for zee maid, und zare my most great
tr'uble come in! I hav' no one with zee right to keek me--to keek me
hard from zee back for being such a fool. I say mit my husband dat
night, 'Vill you keek me hard, if you pleas'?' Mais, he cannot, he hav'
zee gout in zee grande toe, und he can't keek vurth one sou!--und zat is
my second tr'uble!"
Behind her broad back the Colonel confessed that had she expressed such
a wish on the occasion of the mistake, he would willingly have obliged
her, as he was quite free from gout.
So any woman who goes forth to win her living as an actress will at
least be spared the contemptuous treatment bestowed on me in my short
service as an amateur lady's maid.
THE BANE OF THE YOUNG ACTRESS'S LIFE_
What is the bane of a young actress's life?
Under the protection of pretty seals stamped in various tints of wax, I
find one question appearing in many slightly different forms. A large
number of writers ask, "What is the greatest difficulty a young actress
has to surmount?" In another pile of notes the question appears in this
guise, "What is the principal obstacle in the way of the young actress?"
While two motherly bodies ask, "What one thing worries an actress the
most?" After due thought I have cast them all together, boiled them
down, and reduced them to this, "What is the bane of a young actress's
life?" which question I can answer without going into training, with one
hand tied behind me, and both eyes bandaged, answer in one
word--_dress_. Ever since that far-away season when Eve, the beautiful,
inquiring, let-me-see-for-myself Eve, made fig leaves popular in Eden,
and invented the apron to fill a newly felt want, dress has been at once
the comfort and the torment of woman.
Acting is a matter of pretence, and she who can best pretend a splendid
passion, a tender love, or a murderous hate, is admittedly the finest
actress. Time was when stage wardrobe was a pretence, too. An actress
was expected to please the eye, she was expected to be historically
correct as to the shape and style of her costume; but no one expected
her queenly robes to be of silk velvet, her imperial ermine to be
anything rarer than rabbit-skin. My own earliest ermine was humbler
still, being constructed of the very democratic white canton flannel
turned wrong side out, while the ermine's characteristic little black
tails were formed by short bits of round shoe-lacing. The only advantage
I can honestly claim for this domestic ermine is its freedom from the
moths, who dearly love imported garments of soft fine cloth and rare
lining. I have had and have seen others have, in the old days, really
gorgeous brocades made by cutting out great bunches of flowers from
chintz and applying them to a cheaper background, and then picking out
the high lights with embroidery silk, the effect being not only
beautiful, but rich. All these make-believes were necessary then, on a
$30 or $35 a week salary, for a leading lady drew no more.
[Illustration: _Clara Morris as "Jane Eyre"_]
But times are changed, stage lighting is better, stronger. The opera
glass is almost universally used, deceptions would be more easily
discovered; and more, oh, so much more is expected from the actress of
to-day. Formerly she was required, first of all, to sink her own
individuality in that of the woman she pretended to be; and next, if
it was a dramatized novel she was acting in, she was to make herself
look as nearly like the described heroine as possible; otherwise she had
simply to make herself as pretty as she knew how in her own way, that
was all. But now the actresses of a great city are supposed to set the
fashion for the coming season. They almost literally dress in the style
of to-morrow: thus the cult of clothes becomes harmful to the actress.
Precious time that should be given to the minute study, the final
polishing of a difficult character, is used instead in deciding the
pitch of a skirt, the width of a collar, or open sleeve-strap, or no
sleeve at all.
Some ladies of my acquaintance who had been to the theatre three times,
avowedly to study as models the costumes, when questioned as to the
play, looked at one another and then answered vaguely: "The performance?
Oh, nothing remarkable! It was fair enough; but the dresses! They are
really beyond anything in town, and must have cost a mint of money!"
So we have got around to the opposite of the old-time aim, when the
answer might possibly have been: "The acting was beyond anything in
town. The dresses? Nothing remarkable! Oh, well, fair enough!"
I have often been told by famous women of the past that the beautiful
Mrs. Russell, then of Wallack's Theatre, was the originator in this
country of richly elegant realism in stage costuming. When it was known
that the mere linings of her gowns cost more than the outside of other
dresses; that all her velvet was silk velvet; all her lace to the last
inch was real lace; that no wired nor spliced feathers curled about her
splendid leghorns, only magnificent single plumes, each worth weeks of
salary, this handsome woman, superbly clad, created a sensation, but
alas! at the same time, she unconsciously scattered seed behind her that
sprang up into a fine crop of dragon's teeth for following young
actresses to gather. _Qui donne le menu, donne la faim!_ And right here
let me say, I am not of those who believe the past holds a monopoly of
all good things. I have much satisfaction in the present, and a strong
and an abiding faith in the future, and even in this matter of dress,
which has become such an anxiety to the young actress, I would not ask
to go back to those days of primitive costuming. In Shakespere's day
there appeared over a "drop," or curtain of green, a legend plainly
stating, "This is a street in Verona," and every man with an imagination
straightway saw the Veronese street to his complete satisfaction; but
there were those who had no imagination, and to hold their attention and
to keep their patronage, scenes had to be painted for them. One would
not like to see a woman draped in plain grey with an attached placard
saying, "This is a ball gown" or "This is a Coronation robe," the
imagination would balk at it. But there is a far cry between that and
the real Coronation robe of velvet, fur, and jewels. What I would ask
for is moderation, and above all freedom for the actress from the burden
of senseless extravagance which is being bound upon her shoulders--not
by the public, not even by the manager, but by the mischievous small
hands of sister actresses, who have private means outside of their
salaries. How generous they would be if they could be content to dress
with grace and elegance while omitting the mad extravagance that those
who are dependent upon their salaries alone will surely try to emulate,
and sometimes at what a price, dear Heaven, at what a price!
Let us say an actress plays the part of a woman of fashion--of rank. As
she makes her first appearance, she is supposed to have returned from
the opera. Therefore, though she may wear them but one moment, hood and
opera cloak are needed because they will help out the illusion. Suppose,
then, she wears a long cloak of velvet or cloth, with a lining of
delicate tinted quilted satin or fur; if the impression of warmth or
elegance and comfort is given, its work has been well done. But suppose
the actress enters in an opera cloak of such gorgeous material that the
elaborate embroidery on it seems an impertinence--a creation lined with
the frailest, most expensive fur known to commerce, frothing with real
lace, dripping with semi-precious jewels--what happens? The cloak pushes
forward and takes precedence of the wearer, a buzz arises, heads bob
this way and that, opera-glasses are turned upon the wonderful cloak
whose magnificence has destroyed the illusion of the play; and while its
beauty and probable price are whispered over, the scene is lost, and ten
to one the actress is oftener thought of as Miss So-and-So, owner of
that wonderful cloak, than as Madame Such-an-One, heroine of the drama.
Extravagance is inartistic--so for that reason I could wish for
moderation in stage dressing. Heavens, what a nightmare dress used to be
to me! For months I would be paying so much a week to my dressmaker for
the gowns of a play. I thought my heart would break to pieces, when,
during the long run of "Divorce," just as I had finished paying for five
dresses, Mr. Daly announced that we were all to appear in new costumes
for the one hundredth night. I pleaded, argued, too, excitedly, that my
gowns were without a spot or stain; that they had been made by the
dressmaker he had himself selected, and he had approved of them, etc.,
and he made answer, "Yes, yes, I know all that; but I want to stir up
fresh interest, therefore we must have something to draw the people, and
they will come to see the new dresses."
And then, in helpless wrath, I burst out with: "Oh, of course! If we are
acting simply as dress and cloak models in the Fifth Avenue show room, I
can't object any longer. You see, I was under the impression people
came here to see us act your play, not to study our clothes; forgive me
For which I distinctly deserved a forfeit; but we were far past our
unfriendly days, and I received nothing worse than a stern, "I am
surprised at you, Miss Morris," and at my rueful response, "Yes, so am I
surprised at Miss Morris," he laughed outright and pushed me toward the
open door, bidding me hurry over to the dressmaker's. I had a partial
revenge, however, for one of the plates he insisted on having copied for
me turned out so hideously unbecoming that the dress was retired after
one night's wear, and he made himself responsible for the bill.
Sometimes a girl loses her chance at a small part that it is known she
could do nicely, because some other girl can outdress her--that is very
bitter. Then, again, so many plays now are of the present day, and when
the terribly expensive garment is procured it cannot be worn for more
than that one play, and next season it is out of date. When the simplest
fashionable gown costs $125, what must a ball gown with cloak, gloves,
fan, slippers and all, come to? There was a time when the comic artists
joked about "the $10 best hat for wives." The shop that carried $10 best
hats to-day would be mobbed; $20 and $30 are quite ordinary prices now.
So the young actress--unless she has some little means, aside from a
salary, a father and mother to visit through the idle months and so eke
that salary out--is bound to be tormented by the question of clothes;
for she is human, and wants to look as well as those about her, and
besides she knows the stage manager is not likely to seek out the
poorest dresser for advancement when an opening occurs.
Recently some actresses whose acknowledged ability as artists should, I
think, have lifted them above such display, allowed their very charming
pictures to appear in a public print, with these headings, "Miss B. in
her $500 dinner dress"; "Miss R. in her $1000 cloak"; "Miss J. in her
$200 tea gown," and then later there appeared elsewhere, "Miss M.'s $100
Now had these pictures been given to illustrate the surpassing grace or
beauty or novelty of the gowns, the act might have appeared a gracious
one, a sort of friendly "tip" on the newest things out; but those
flaunting price tags lowered it all. In this period of prosperity a
spirit of mad extravagance is abroad in the land. Luxuries have become
necessities, fine feeling is blunted, consideration for others is
forgotten. Those who published the figures and prices of their clothes
were good women, as well as brilliant artists, who would be deeply
pained if any act of theirs should fill some sister's heart with bitter
envy and fatal emulation, being driven on to competition by the
mistaken belief that the fine dresses had made the success of their
owners. Oh, for a little moderation, a little consideration for the
under girl, in the struggle for clothes!
In old times of costume plays the manager furnished most of the wardrobe
for the men (oh, lucky men!), who provided but their own tights and
shoes; and judging from the extreme beauty and richness of the costumes
of the New York plays of to-day, and the fact that a lady of exquisite
taste designs wholesale, as one might say, all the dresses for
production after production, it would seem that the management must
share the heavy expenses of such costuming, or else salaries are very
much higher than they were a few years ago.
In France the stage, no doubt, partly fills the place of the departed
court in presenting new fashions to the public eye, doing it with the
graceful aplomb that has carried many a doubtful innovation on to sure
success. Those beautiful and trained artists take pleasure in first
presenting the style other women are to follow, and yet they share the
honour (?) with another class, whose most audacious follies in dress,
while studied from the corner of a downcast eye, are nevertheless often
How many of the thousands of women, who years ago wore the large,
flaring back, felt hat, knew they were following the whim of a woman
known to the half-world as Cora Pearl? Not pretty, but of a very
beautiful figure, and English by birth, she was, one might say, of
course, a good horse-woman. She banqueted late one night--so late that
dawn was greying the windows and the sodden faces of her guests when
they began to take leave. She had indulged in too much wine for comfort;
her head was hot. She was seized with one of the wild whims of her
lawless class--she would mount then and there and ride in the Bois.
Remonstrances chilled her whim to iron will. Horses were sent for, her
maid aroused. She flung on her habit, and held her hand out for her
chapeau. There was none.
"Mademoiselle should recall the new riding hat had been too small, had
been returned for blocking."
"Tres bien, le vieux donc, vite!"
"Oh, mon Dieu, il fut donne." A quick blow stopped further explanation.
"Quelle que cruche, que cette fille," then a moment's silence, a roving
about of the small hot eyes, and with a bound she tore from an American
artist's hand his big soft felt hat. Turning the flapping brim up, she
fastened it to the crown in three places with jewelled pins, tore a
bunch of velvet from her dinner corsage, secured it directly in front,
and clapping the hat on the back of her head, dashed downstairs and was
in the saddle with a scrabble and a bound, and away like mad, followed
by two men, who were her unwilling companions. Riding longer than she
had intended, she returned in broad daylight. All Paris was agog over
her odd head gear. Her impudent, laughing face caught their fancy yet
again, and she trotted down from the Arc de Triomphe between two
rippling little streams of comment and admiration, with, "Comme elle est
belle!" "Quelle aplomb!" "Matin, quelle chic!" "Elle est forte
gentille!" "C'est le coup de grace!" "Le chapeau! le chapeau!" "La belle
Pearl! la belle Pearl!" reaching her distinctly at every other moment.
And that was the origin of the back-turned, broad-brimmed hat that had
such vogue before the arrival of the Gainsborough or picture hat.
If I were a young actress, I would rather be noted for acting than for
originating a new style of garment; but it is a free country, thank God,
and a big one, with room for all of us, whatever our preferences. And
though the young actress has the clothes question heavy on her mind now,
and finds it hard to keep up with others and at the same time out of
debt, she has the right to hope that by and by she will be so good an
actress, and so valuable to the theatre, that a fat salary will make the
clothes matter play second fiddle, as is right and proper it should, to
the question of fine acting.
THE MASHER, AND WHY HE EXISTS_
Thousands of persons who do not themselves use slang understand and even
appreciate it. The American brand is generally pithy, compact, and
expressive, and not always vulgar. Slang is at its worst in contemptuous
epithets, and of those the one that is lowest and most offensive seems
likely to become a permanent, recognized addition to the language. No
more vulgar term exists than "masher," and it is a distinct comfort to
find Webster ascribing the origin of the word to England's reckless
Beaux, bucks, lady-killers, Johnnies,--all these terms have been applied
at different periods to the self-proclaimed fascinator of women, and
to-day we will use some one, any of them, rather than that
abomination,--masher. Nor am I "puttin' on scallops and frills," as the
boys say. I know a good thing when I hear it, as when a very much
overdressed woman entered a car, and its first sudden jerk broke her
gorgeous parasol, while its second flung her into the arms of the
ugliest, fattest man present and whirled her pocket-book out of the
window, I knew that the voice of conviction that slowly said, "Well, she
is up against it," slangily expressed the unfortunate woman's exact
predicament. Oh, no, I'm not "puttin' on frills," I am only objecting
with all my might and main to a term, as well as to the contemptible
creature indicated by it,--masher.
In a certain school, long ago, there was a very gentle, tender-hearted
teacher, who was also the comforter and peacemaker of her flock.
Whenever there was trouble at recess, and some one pushed or some one
else had their gathers torn out, or, in actual war, names were called,
and "mean thing" and "tattle-tale" brought sobbing little maids to the
teacher's arms, or when loss and disaster in the way of missing blocks
of rubber, broken slate pencils, or ink-stained reader covers sent
floods of tears down small faces, this teacher always came to the rescue
and soothed and patted and invariably wound up with these exact words,
"There, there, don't let us say anything more about it, and then we'll
all be quite happy." I am sure we all thought that it was the eleventh
commandment, "Not to say anything more about it."
Now every one of us suffered more or less from our encounters with the
multiplication table. Of course _fives_ and _tens_ were at a
premium--even very stupid little girls could get through them, and
_twos_ were not so bad, but the rest of the tables were tear-washed
daily. _Sevens_ were, however, my own especial nightmare--even to this
day my fingers instinctively begin to move when I multiply any figure by
seven. Standing in class on the platform, the _sevens_ one day fell to
me. Being charged to put my hands before me, that I should not by chance
forget and count by their aid, I staggered and reeled through the table
so far as seven times seven, when, moistening my lips, I hoarsely
whispered, "Forty-nine," and the shock of finding the answer correct
destroyed me utterly. Seven times eight was anything they liked in
figures, and so I recklessly cried out, "Oh, sixty-two, I guess," and
burst into tears. Recess came, and I would not move from my desk; and
then the teacher dried my tears on her own cool, sweet handkerchief, and
was comforting me as best she could, when suddenly I stole her thunder
by pressing my damp cheek to hers and saying eagerly, "Don't let us say
anything more about the _sevens_, Miss Sands, and then we'll all be
Poor little tots! Poor multiplication table! and now, oh, how I would
like to cry, "Don't let us say anything more about the masher, and then
we'll all be quite happy;" but to calm the needless fears of many, let
me say at once, the creature is a nuisance, but not a danger. The
stealthy, crafty, determined pursuer of the young and honest actress is
a product of the imagination. These "Johnnies" who hang about stage
doors and send foolish and impertinent notes to the girlhood of the
stage are not in love--they are actuated by vanity, pure and simple.
These young "taddies," with hair carefully plastered down, are as like
one another as are the peas of one pod,--each wishes to be considered a
very devil of a fellow; but how can that be unless he is recognized as a
fascinator of women, a masher; and the quickest way to obtain that
reputation is to be seen supping or driving with pretty actresses.
One of the odd things of the professional life is that in the artistic
sense you are not considered an "actress" until you have shown some
merit, have done some good, honest work; but for the purposes of gossip
or scandal, ballet girls, chorus girls, or figurantes become actresses
full fledged. Mammas and aunties of would-be young artists seem to have
made a veritable bogy-man of this would-be lady-killer. What nonsense!
Any well-brought-up young woman, respecting the proprieties, can protect
herself from the attentions of this walking impertinence. Letters are
his chief weapon. If they are signed, it is easy to return them, if one
cares to take so much trouble. A gift would be returned; if sent without
a signature, it need not be shown nor worn. If the creature presumes to
hang about the stage door, a word of complaint to the manager will be
sufficient; the "masher" will at once "take notice" of some other door
and probably of some other actress. But I am asked, Why does he exist?
And I suppose he could not if he were not encouraged, and there does
exist a certain body of girls who think it great fun to get a jolly
supper or a ride to the races out of the Johnny's pocket-book. Wait,
now; please don't jump instantly to the conclusion that these chorus or
ballet girls are thoroughly bad because they smash to smithereens the
conventional laws regulating the conduct of society girls. Most of them,
on the contrary, are honest and, knowing how to take care of themselves,
will risk hearing a few impudent, wounding words rather than lose one
hour of merriment their youth craves. Of course this is not as it should
be, but these girls are pretty; life has been hard; delicate
sensibilities have not been cultivated in them. Before we harshly
condemn, let us first bow to that rough honesty that will defend
itself, if need be, with a blow. A refined girl would never put herself
in a position requiring such drastic measures; but it is, I think, to
these reckless young wretches, and a few silly, sentimental simpletons
who permit themselves to be drawn into a mawkish correspondence with
perfect strangers, that we really owe the continued existence of the
stage-door "masher," who wishes to be mistaken for a member of the
But the mammas and the aunties may feel perfectly safe for another
reason. The earnest, ambitious young gentlewoman you are watching over
is not often attractive to the "masher." The clever and promising
artist, Miss G----, is not his style. He is not looking for brains,
"don't yer know." He fancies No. 3 in the second row, she with the
flashing eyes and teeth; or No. 7 in the front row, that has the cutest
kick in the whole crowd. And his cheap and common letters of fulsome
compliment and invitation go to her accordingly. But the daring little
free lance who accepts these attentions pays a high price for the bit of
supper that is followed by gross impertinences. One would think that the
democratic twenty-five-cent oyster stew, and respect therewith, would
taste better than the small bird and the small bottle with insult as a
_demi-tasse_. Then, too, she loses caste at once; for it is not enough
that a girl should not do evil: she must also avoid the appearance of
evil. She will be judged by the character of her companions, and a few
half-hearted denials, a shrug of the shoulders, a discreetly suppressed
smile, will place her among the list of his "mashes." Oh, hideous word!
Of course, now and again, at long, long intervals, a man really falls in
love with a woman whom he has seen only upon the stage; but no "masher"
proceedings are taken in such cases. On the other hand, very determined
efforts are made to locate the actress's family or friends, and through
them to be properly presented.
Believing, as I did, that every girl had a perfect right to humiliate a
"masher" to the extent of her ability, I once went, it's hard to admit
it, but really I did go, too far in reprisal. Well, at all events, I was
made to feel rather ashamed of myself. We were presenting "Alixe" at Mr.
Daly's Broadway Theatre, just after the fire, and the would-be
lady-killer was abroad in the land and unusually active. There was
seldom a night that some one was not laughing contemptuously or frowning
fiercely over a "drop letter," as we called them. One evening my box
held a most inflammable communication. It was not written upon club
paper, nor had it any private monogram; in fact, it was on legal cap.
The hand was large, round, and laboriously distinct. The i's were
dotted, the t's crossed with painful precision, while toward capitals
and punctuation marks the writer showed more generosity than
understanding. His sentiment and romance were of the old-time rural
type, and I am certain he longed to quote, "The rose is red, the
violet's blue." I might have been a little touched but for the
signature. I loathed the faintest hint of anonymity, and simply could
not bring myself to believe that any man really and truly walked up and
down the earth bearing the name of Mr. A. Fix. Yet that was the
signature appended to the long, rapturous love-letter. I gave it a pitch
into the waste-basket and dressed for the play. Of course I spoke of the
name, and of course it was laughed at; but three nights later another
letter came--oh, well, it was just a letter. The writer was very
diffuse, and evidently had plenty of paper and ink and time at his
disposal. He dwelt on his sufferings as each day passed without a letter
from me. He explained just what efforts he had made, vainly made, to
secure sleep each night. He did not live in a large city when at home,
and he described how nearly he had come to being run over in trying to
cross our biggest street--while thinking of me. Oh, Mr Fix! He bravely
admitted he was due at the store out home, but he kept a-thinking I
might not have got that first letter, or maybe I wanted to look him over
before writing. So he had waited and was coming to the theatre that very
night, and his seat was in the balcony,--No. 3, left side, front
row,--and for fear I might not feel quite sure about him, he would hold
high to his face, in his left hand, a large white handkerchief.
It didn't seem to occur to him that such an attitude would give him a
very grief-stricken aspect; he only desired to give me a fair chance "to
look him over." Without a second thought, I read that portion of the
letter in the greenroom, and the laughter had scarcely died away when
that admirable actor, but perfectly fiendish player of tricks, Louis
James, was going quietly from actor to actor arranging for the downfall
of A. Fix.
So it happened that James, Clarke, and Lewis, instead of entering in a
group, came on in Indian file, each holding in the left hand a large
pocket-handkerchief. I being already on the stage, there was of course a
line spread of canvas in the balcony. The audience, ever quick to catch
on to a joke, seeing each man glance upward, followed suit, spied the
enormous handkerchief held high in the left hand, and realizing the
situation, burst into hilarious laughter. Uselessly I pleaded; at every
possible opportunity the white handkerchief appeared in some left hand,
while the stage manager vainly wondered why the audience laughed in such
unseemly places that night.
The next day that young person, whom I had treated as a common "masher,"
heaped a whole shovelful of hot, hot coals upon my guilty head by
writing me a letter less carefully dotted and crossed, somewhat more
confused in metaphor than before, but beginning with: "I am afraid you
are cruel. I think you must have betrayed me to your mates, for I do not
remember that they did such things before last night with their
Then, after telling me his home address, his business, and his exact
standing socially, he laid these specially large hot coals carefully
upon my brow, "So, though you make a laughing-stock of me, now don't
think I shall be mad about it; but remember if any trouble or sickness
comes to you, no matter how far from now, if you will just write me one
word, I'll help you to my plumb last cent," and truly Mr. Fix left me
ashamed and sorry.
He had suffered for his name, which I believed to be an assumed one.
Poor young man, I offer an apology to his memory.
One scamp wrote so brazenly, so persistently, demanding answers to be
sent to a certain prominent club, that I one day laid the letters before
Mr. Daly, and he advertised in the theatre programme that "if Mr.
B.M.B., of such a club, would call at the box office, he would receive
not the answer he expected, but the one he deserved," and Mr. Daly was
highly delighted when he heard that B.M.B., who was a "masher" _par
excellence_, had been literally chaffed out of the club rooms.
Those creatures that, like poisonous toadstools, spring up at street
corners to the torment of women, should be taken in hand by the police,
since they encumber the streets and are a menace and a mortification to
female citizens. Let some brazen woman take the place of one of these
street "mashers," and proceed to ogle passers-by, and see how quickly
the police would gather her in.
But so far as the stage "masher" is concerned, dear and anxious mamma,
auntie, or sister, don't worry about the safety of your actress to be.
The "masher" is an impertinence, a nuisance; but never, dear madam,
never a danger.
SOCIAL CONDITIONS BEHIND THE SCENES_
"What social conditions exist behind the scenes?"
This fourth question is one that Charles Dickens would have called an
"agriwator," and as it is repeated every now and again, I ask myself
where is the curiosity about the theatre, its people, and its life to
end? The question is, What social conditions exist behind the scenes?
Now to be quite frank, the first few times this query appeared, I was
distinctly aggravated. I said to myself, do these ladies and
gentlemen--yes, three males are in this inquiring group--do they think
we are a people so apart from all others that we require a separate and
distinctly different social code; that we know nothing of the law
governing the size, style, and use of the visiting card; that
congratulations, condolences, are unknown rites; that invitations,
acceptances, and regrets are ancient Hebrew to us, and calls, teas,
dinners, and dances are exalted functions far above our comprehension?
And then I read the question again, and saw I was making a ninny of
myself--an easy thing to do with the thermometer at ninety-nine in the
shade. That it said "behind the scenes," and with a laugh I recalled the
little child who had delightedly witnessed her first Christmas
pantomime; and being told afterward I was one of the people of the play,
she watched and listened eagerly some time before coming and resting a
dimpled hand on mine, to ask disappointedly, "Please, does all the
actin' people have 'emselves jes' same as any one?"
Poor blue-eyed tot, she had expected at least a few twirls about the
room, a few bounds and hand kisses; and here I was "'having" just like
any one. So all my mistaken vexation gone, I'll try to make plain our
social condition behind the scenes.
In the first place, then, a theatrical company is almost exactly like
one large family. Our feeling for one another is generally one of warm
good-fellowship. In our manners there is an easy familiarity which we
would not dream of using outside of our own little company circle. We
are a socially inclined people, communicative, fond of friendly
conversation, and hopelessly given over to jokes, or, as we put it, "to
But don't imagine there's any _socialism_ about a theatre that means
community of property and association; on the contrary, we enter into
the keenest competition with one another.
I dare say an outsider, as the non-professional has been termed time out
of mind, watching our conduct for a few days and nights, would conclude
that, though quite harmless, we are all a little _mad_. For the actor's
funny habit of injecting old, old lines of old, old plays into his
everyday conversation must be somewhat bewildering to the uninitiated:--
If an elderly, heavy breathing, portly gentleman, lifting his hat to a
gentle, dignified little lady, remarks, "Beshrew me, but I do love thee
still. Isn't it hot this morning; take this chair." Or if a very slender
pop-eyed young comedian, while wiping his brow, says, "Now could I drink
hot blood and hold it not a sin," and some one else calmly answers, "You
haven't got those words right, and you couldn't drink anything hot
to-day without having a fit." Or if two big, stalwart men, meeting in
the "entrance," fall suddenly into each other's arms, with a cry of
"Camille!" "Armand!" Or if a man enters the greenroom with his hat on,
and a half-dozen people call, "Do you take this for an ale-house, that
you can enter with such a swagger?" and the hat comes off with a
laughing apology. Or if the man with the cane is everlastingly
practising "carte and tierce" on somebody, or doing a broadsword fight
with any one who has an umbrella. If a woman passes with her eyes cast
down, reading a letter, and some one says, "In maiden meditation, fancy
free." If she eats a sandwich at a long rehearsal, and some one
instantly begins, "A creature not too bright nor good for human nature's
daily food." If she appears in a conspicuously new gown and some one
cries, "The riches of the ship have come on shore," ten to one she
replies, "A poor thing, but mine own."
These things will look and sound queer and flighty to the outsider, who,
not acquainted with the lines or the plays they are from, cannot of
course see how aptly some of them adapt themselves to the situation. But
this one is plain to all. A young girl, who was a very careless dresser,
was trailing along the "entrance" one evening, when behind her the
leading man, quoting Juliet, remarked, "'Thou knowest the mask of night
is on my cheek,' or I would not dare tell you your petticoat is coming
off;" a perfect gale of laughter followed, in which the little sloven
Then one morning, rehearsal being dismissed, I was hurrying away,
intending to enjoy a ride on horse-back, when Mr. Davidge, Mr. Daly's
"old man," lifting his hat politely, and twisting Macbeth's words very
slightly, remarked, "I wish your horse swift and sure of foot, and so I
do commend you to its back," and as I laughed, "Macbeth, Act III," we
parted in mutual admiration for each other's knowledge of the great
The gentlemen are attentive to the ladies' small needs, providing seats
when possible, bringing a wrap, a glass of water, fanning you if you are
warm, carrying your long train if it is heavy; but never, never losing
the chance to play a joke on you if they can.
There is generally some ringleader of greenroom fun; for most actors
are very impatient of "waits" between the scenes, and would rather pass
such time in pranks than in quiet conversation. On one occasion some of
the actors had made noise enough to reach the managerial ear, and they
were forfeited. The actresses laughed at their discomfiture, and revenge
was at once in order. Next night, then, four young men brought bits of
calico and threaded needles with them, and when their "wait" came, they
all sat quietly in a row and sewed steadily. The sight was so ludicrous
the women went off into unbounded laughter, and were in their turn
Nothing excuses the use of swear words behind the scenes, and even a
very mild indulgence is paid for by a heavy forfeit. One actor, not too
popular with the company, used always to be late, and coming into the
dressing room, he would fling everything about and knock things over,
causing any amount of annoyance to his room-mates. He went on in but
one act, the third, and the lateness of the hour made his lack of
business promptitude the more marked. A joke was, of course, in order,
and a practical joke at that.
One evening he was extra late, and that was the opportunity of the
joking room-mates. They carefully dropped some powerful, strong-holding
gum into the heels of his patent leather shoes, and had barely put them
in place, when the ever-late actor was heard coming on the run down the
passage. In he tore, flinging things right and left, overturning
make-ups, and knocking down precious silk hats. He grabbed his shoes,
jammed his foot into one, scowled and exclaimed disgustedly, "What the
deuce! there's something in this shoe. Bah," he went on, "and in this
"Take them off and shake 'em," suggested the dropper of the gum.
"No time," growled the victim; "I'll get docked if I'm a second late.
But these confounded things feel damp in the heels," and he kicked and
"Damp in the heels?" murmured the guilty one, interrogatively. "In the
heels, said you? What a very odd place for dampness to accumulate. Now,
personally, I find my heels are dry and smooth and hard, like--like a
china nest-egg, don't you know; but _damp heels_, it doesn't sound
right, and it must feel very uncomfortable. I don't wonder you kick!"
And another broke in with: "I say, old fellow, that was my India ink you
spoiled then. But never mind, I suppose your heels trouble you," then
asked earnestly, as the victim hastily patted a grey beard into place,
"Is that good gum you have there? Will it hold that beard securely?"
"Will it hold? It's the strongest gum ever made, it can hold a horse. I
have hard work to get it to dissolve nights with pure alcohol." This
while the guilty one was writhing with that malicious joy known in
its fulness to the practical joker alone.
[Illustration: _Clara Morris in "The Sphinx"_]
The victim, rushing from the room, reached the stage at the very moment
his cue was spoken, and made his entrance so short of breath he could
scarcely speak. The act was very long, the gum in his shoes dried
nicely, the curtain fell. He went below to his room to dress for the
street. He tried to remove and lay aside his patent leathers. Alas,
alas! he laid aside instead his manners, his temper, his self-restraint,
his self-respect. The gum proved itself worthy of his praise; it stuck,
it held. The shoes were willing to come off on one condition only,--that
they brought both sock and skin with them.
Three men, with tears in their eyes, had pencils, and kept tally of his
remarks as he danced about after each frantic tug at a glued-on shoe.
One took down every wounding, malicious word. A second caught and
preserved every defamatory word. While the third and busiest one secured
every profane word that fell from his enraged lips.
Finally he poured the contents of the alcohol bottle into his shoes and,
swearing like a madman, waited for the gum to soften. And the manager,
who was not deaf, proved that his heart was harder than the best gum and
could not be softened at all. And to this day no member of the company
knows how much of the victim's salary was left to him that week after
forfeits for bad words were all paid up. But some good came from the
affair, for the actor was never again so late in arriving as not to have
time to look into his shoes for any strange substance possibly lurking
Personally, I detest the practical joke, but I have, alas! never been
above enjoying my share of the greenroom fun. Some members of Mr. Daly's
company were very stately and dignified, and he would have been glad had
we all been like them. But there were others who would have had fun with
the tombs of the Egyptian kings, and who could wring smiles from a
graven image. Mr. Daly forfeited at last so recklessly, that either the
brakes had to be put upon our fun or some one would have to do picket
duty. The restless element had a wait of an entire long act in one play,
and among those who waited was a tiny little bit of an old, old man. He
wore rags in his "part," and on the seat of his trousers was an enormous
red patch. He had been asked to stand guard in the greenroom door, and
nothing loath, he only argued deprecatingly: "You'll all get caught, I'm
afraid. You see, Mr. Daly's so sharp, if I cough, he'll hear me, too,
and will understand. If I signal, he'll see me, and we'll all get
For a moment we were silently cast down. Then I rose to the occasion
beautifully. I took the wee little man and placed him in the greenroom
doorway, leaning with his back against the door-jamb. When he saw Mr.
Daly in the distance, he simply was to turn his bright red patch
_toward_ us--we would do the rest.
It was a glorious success. We kept an eye on the picket, and when the
red patch danger signal was shown, silence fell upon the room. Forfeits
ceased for a long time. Of course we paid our watchman for his
services--paid him in pies. He had a depraved passion for bakers' pies,
which he would not cut into portions, because he said it spoiled their
flavour--he preferred working his way through them; and that small grey
face seen near the centre of a mince pie whose rim was closing gently
about his ears was a sight to make a supreme justice smile.
But our evil course was almost run: our little pie-eater, who was just a
touch odd, or what people call "queer," on Thanksgiving Day permitted
himself to be treated by so many drivers of pie wagons that at night he
was tearful and confused, and though he watched faithfully for the
coming of Mr. Daly, while we laughingly listened to a positively
criminal parody on "The Bells," watched for and saw him in ample time,
he, alas! confusedly turned his red patch the wrong way, and we, every
one, came to grief and forfeiture in consequence.
Obliging people, generous, ever ready to give a helping hand. Behind the
scenes, then, our social condition, I may say, is one of good-mannered
informality, of jollity tempered by respect and genuine good-fellowship.
THE ACTRESS AND RELIGION_
Nothing in my autobiography seems to have aroused so much comment, so
much surprise, as my admission that I prayed in moments of great
distress or anxiety, even when in the theatre.
One man writes that he never knew before that there was such a thing as
a "praying actress." Poor fellow, one can't help feeling there's lots of
other things he doesn't know; and though I wish to break the news as
gently as possible, I have to inform him that I am not a _rara avis_,
that many actresses pray; indeed, the woods are full of us, so to
One very old gentleman finds this habit of prayer "commendable and
sweet," but generally there seems to be a feeling of amazement that I
should dare, as it were, to bring the profession of acting to the
attention of our Lord; and yet we are authorized to pray, "Direct us, O
Lord, in _all our doings_, and further us with thy continual help, that
in all our work we may glorify thy holy name."
It is not the work, but the motive, the spirit that actuates the work;
whether embroidering stoles, sawing wood, washing dishes, or acting, if
it is done honestly, for the glory of the holy name, why may one not
pray for divine help?
One lady, who, poor soul, should have been born two or three hundred
years ago, when her narrowness would have been more natural, is shocked,
almost indignant; and though she is good enough to say she does not
accuse me of "intentional sacrilege," still, addressing a prayer to God
from a theatre is nothing less in her eyes than profanation. "For," says
she, "you know we must only seek God in His sanctuary, the church."
Goodness, mercy! in that case some thousands of us would become heathen
if we never found God save inside of a church.
Does this poor lady not read her Bible, then? Has she not heard the
psalmist's cry: "If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there. If I make
my bed in hell, behold, thou art there also; whither shall I flee from
Surely, there are a great many places besides the church between heaven
and hell, and even in a theatre we may not flee from His presence.
But lest the young girl writers should feel abashed over their
expressions of surprise at my conduct, I will show them what good
company they have had.
A good many years ago a certain famous scholar and preacher of New York
City called upon me one day. I was absent, attending rehearsal. The
creed of his denomination was particularly objectionable to me, but
having wandered into the big stone edifice on Fourth Avenue one Sunday,
I was so charmed by his clear reasoning, his eloquence, and, above all,
by his evident sincerity, that I continued to go there Sunday after
In my absence he held converse with my mother as to his regret at
missing me, as to the condition of the weather, as to the age,
attainments, and breed of my small dog, who had apparently been seized
with a burning desire to get into his lap. We afterward found she only
wished to rescue her sweet cracker, which he sat upon.
In his absent-minded way he then fell into a long silence, his handsome,
scholarly head drooping forward. Finally he sighed and remarked:--
"She is an actress, your daughter?"
My mother, with lifted brows, made surprised assent.
"Yes, yes," he went on gently, "an actress, surely, for I see my paper
commends her work. I have noted her presence in our congregation, and
her intelligence." (I never sleep in the daytime.) "Our ladies like her,
too; m-m, an actress, and yet takes an interest in her soul's salvation;
wonderful! I--I don't understand! no, I don't understand!" A speech
which did little to endear its maker to the actress's mother, I'm
See how narrowing are some creeds. This reverend gentleman was
personally gentle, kind, considerate, and naturally just; yet, knowing
no actor's life, never having seen the inside of a playhouse, he,
without hesitation, denounced the theatre and declared it the gate of
In the amusing correspondence that followed that call, the great
preacher was on the defensive from the first, and in reading over two
or three letters that, because of blots or errors, had to be recopied, I
am fairly amazed at the temerity of some of my remarks. In one place I
charge him with "standing upon his closed Bible to lift himself above
sinners, instead of going to them with the open volume and teaching them
to read its precious message."
Perhaps he forgave much to my youth and passionate sincerity; at all
events, we were friends. I had the benefit of his advice when needed,
and, in spite of our being of different church denominations, he it was
who performed the marriage service for my husband and myself.
So, girl writers, who question me, you see there have been other pebbles
on my beach, and some big ones, too.
The question, then, that has been put so many times is, "Can there be
any compatibility between religion and the stage?"
Now had it been a question of church and stage, I should have been
forced to admit that the exclusive spirit of the first, and the
unending occupation of the second, kept them uncomfortably far apart.
But the question has invariably been as to a compatibility between
religion and the stage. Now I take it that religion means a belief in
God, and the desire and effort to do His will; therefore I see nothing
incompatible between religion and acting. I am a church-woman now; but
for many years circumstances prevented my entering the great army of
Christians who have made public confession of their faith, and received
baptism as an outward and visible sign of a spiritual change. Yet during
those long years without a church I was not without religion. I knew
naught of "justification," of "predestination," of "transubstantiation."
I only knew I must obey the will of God. Here was the Bible; it was the
word of God. There was Christ, beautiful, tender, adorable, and he said:
"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy
soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment;
and the second is like unto it. Thou shalt love thy neighbour as
thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."
Add to these the old Mosaic "Ten," and you have my religious creed
complete. And though it is simple enough for a child to comprehend, it
is difficult for the wisest to give perfect obedience, because it is not
always easy to love that tormenting neighbour, even a little bit, let
alone as well as oneself. How I wish there was some other word to take
the place of "religion." It has been so abused, so misconstrued.
Thousands of people shrink from the very sound of it, believing that to
be religious means the solemn, sour-faced setting of one foot before the
other in a hard and narrow way--the shutting out of all beauty, the
cutting off of all enjoyment. Oh, the pity! the pity! Can't they read?
"Let all those that seek thee be joyful and glad in thee, and let such
as love thee and thy salvation say always, The Lord be praised." Again,
"The Lord loveth a cheerful giver." But it is not always in giving alone
that He loves cheerfulness. Real love and trust in God--which is
religion, mind you--makes the heart feather light, opens the eye to
beauty, the heart to sympathy, the ear to harmony, and all the merriment
and joy of life is but the sweeter for the reverent gratitude one
returns to the Divine Giver.
One evening, in a greenroom chatter, the word "religious" had in some
way been applied to me, and a certain actress of "small parts," whose
life had been of the bitterness of gall, suddenly broke out with:
"What--what's that? religious--you? Well, I guess not! Why, you've more
spirits in a minute than the rest of us have in a week, and you are as
full of capers as a puppy. I guess I know religion when I see it. It
makes children loathe the Bible by forcing them to learn a hundred of
its verses for punishment. It pulls down the shades on Sundays, eats
cold meat and pickles, locks up bookcase and piano, and discharges the
girl for walking with her beau. Oh, no! my dear, you're not religious."
Poor abused word; no wonder it terrifies people.
How many thousand women, I wonder, are kept from church by their
inability to dress up to the standard of extravagance raised by those
who are more wealthy than thoughtful. Even if the poor woman plucks up
her courage and enters the church, the magnificence of her fortunate
sisters distracts her attention from the service, and fills her with
longing, too often with envy, and surely with humiliation.
Some years ago a party of ultra-high churchwomen decided to wear only
black during Lent. One of these ladies condescended to know me, and in
speaking of the matter, she said: "Oh, I think this black garb is more
than a fad, it really operates for good. It is so appropriate, you know,
and--and a constant reminder of that first great fast--the origin of
Lent; and as I walk about in trailing black, I know I look devout, and
that makes me feel devout, and so I pray often, and you're always the
better for praying, even if your dress is at the bottom of it--and, oh,
well, I feel that I am in the picture, when I wear black during Lent."
But the important thing is that before the Lenten season was half over,
female New York was walking the streets in gentle, black-robed dignity,
and evidently enjoying the keeping of Lent because, to use a theatrical
expression, "it knew it looked the part."
So much influence do these petted, beloved daughters of the rich
exercise over the many, that I have often wished that, for the sake of
the poorer women, the wealthy ones would set a fashion of extreme
simplicity of costume for church-going. Every female thing has an
inalienable right to make herself as lovely as possible; and these
graceful, clever women of fashion would know as well how to make
simplicity charming as does the _grande dame_ of France, who is never
more _grande dame_ than when, in plain little bonnet, simple gown, and a
bit of a fichu, she attends her church.
These bright butterflies have all the long week to flutter their
magnificence in. Their lunches, dinners, teas, dances, games, yachts,
links, race-courses--everyone gives occasion for glorious display. Will
they not, then, be sweetly demure on Sunday for the sake of the
"picture," spare their sisters the agony of craving for like beautiful
apparel? for God has made them so, and they can't help wanting to be
Perhaps some day a woman of fashion, simply clad, will turn up her
pretty nose contemptuously at splendour of dress at church service, and
whisper, "What bad form!"
Then, indeed, as the tide sets her way, she will realize her power, and
the church will have many more attendants. The very poor woman will not
be so cruelly humiliated, and the wage-earning girl, who puts so much of
her money into finery, will have a more artistic and more suitable model
And you are beginning to think that free silver is not the only mad idea
that has been put forward by a seemingly sane person. Ah, well, it's
sixteen to one, you know, that this is both first and last of the church
To those two little maids who so anxiously inquire "if I believe prayer
is of any real service, and why, since my own could not always have been
answered," I can only say, they being in a minority, I have no authority
to answer their question here. Perhaps, though, they may recall the fact
that their loving mothers tenderly refused some of their most passionate
demands in babyhood. And we are yet but children, who often pray
improperly to our Father.
A DAILY UNPLEASANTNESS_
What is the most unpleasant experience in the daily life of a young
Without pause for thought, and most emphatically too, I answer, her
passing unattended through the city streets at night; that is made
unalloyed misery, through terror and humiliation. The backwoods girl
makes her lonely way through the forest by blazed trees, but the way of
the lonely girl through the city streets is marked by blazing blushes.
It is an infamy that a girl's honesty should not protect her by night as
well as by day. Those hideous hyenas of the midnight streets are never
deceived. By one glance they can distinguish between a good woman and
those poor wandering ghosts of dead modesty and honour, who flit
restlessly back and forth from alleys dark to bright gas glare; but
bring one of these men to book, and he will declare that "decent women
have no right to be in the streets after nightfall," as though citizens
were to maintain public highways for the sole use one-half the time of
all the evil things that hide from light to creep out at dark and meet
those companions who are fair by day and foul by night.
Some girls never learn to face the homeward walk with steady nerves,
others grow used to the swift approach, the rapidly spoken word, and
receive them with set, stony face and deaf ears; but oh, the terror and
the shame of it at first! And this horror of the night takes so many
forms that it is hard to say which one is the most revolting--hard to
decide between the vile innuendo whispered by a sober brute or the
roared ribaldry of a drunken beast.
In one respect I differ from most of my companions in misery, since
they almost invariably fear most the drunkard; while I ground my greater
fear of the sober man upon the simple fact that I can't outrun him as I
can a drunken one, at a pinch. One night, in returning home from a
performance of "Divorce,"--a very long play that brought me into the
street extra late,--a shrieking man flew across my path, and as a second
rushed after him with knife uplifted for a killing blow, his foot caught
in mine, and as he pitched forward the knife sank into his victim's arm
instead of his back as he had intended; and with the cries of "Murder!
Police!" ringing in my ears, I ran as if I were the murderess. These
things are in themselves a pretty high price to pay for being an
I had a friend, an ancient lady, a relative of one of our greatest
actors, who, for independence' sake, taught music in her old age. One
night she had played at a concert and was returning home. Tall and
slight and heavily veiled, she walked alone. Then suddenly appeared a
well-looking young son of Belial, undoubtedly a gentleman by daylight.
He tipped his hat and twirled his mustache; she turned away her head. He
cleared his throat; she seemed quite deaf. He spoke; he called her
"girlie" (the scamp!). She walked the faster; so did he. He protested
she should not walk home alone; she stopped; she spoke, "Will you please
allow me to walk home in peace?"
But, no, that was just what he would not do, and suddenly she answered,
"Very well, then, I accept your escort, though under protest."
[Illustration: _Clara Morris in "Evadne"_]
Surprised, he walked at her side. The way was long, the silence grew
painful. He ventured to suggest supper as they passed a restaurant; she
gently declined. At last she stopped directly beneath a gas-lamp, and
from her face, with sorrow-hollowed eyes and temples, where everyone of
her seventy-six years had been stamped in cruel line and crease and
wrinkle, she lifted up the veil and raised her sad old eyes
reproachfully to his. He staggered back, turned red, turned white,
stammered, took off his hat, attempted to apologize, then turned and
"And what," I asked, "did you say to him?"
"Say, say," she repeated; "justice need not be cruel. Why add anything
to the sight of this?" and she drew a finger down her withered cheek.
'Twas said with laughing bitterness, for she had been very fair, and
well guarded, too, in the distant past; while then I could but catch her
tired hands and kiss them, in a burst of pity that this ancient
gentlewoman might not walk in peace through the city streets because
fate had left her without a protector.
Appeal to the police, I think some one says. Of course, if he is about;
but recall that famous old recipe of Mrs. Glass beginning, "First catch
your hare and then--" so, just catch your policeman. But believe me,
they rarely appear together,--your tormentor of women and your
policeman,--unless, indeed, the former is stupidly in liquor; and then
what good if he is arrested? shame will prevent you from appearing
against him. Silence and speed, therefore, are generally the best
defensive weapons of the frightened, lonely girl.
Once through fright, fatigue, and shame I lost all self-control, and
turning to the creature whom I could not outwalk, I cried out with a
sob, "Oh, I am so tired, so frightened, and so ashamed; you make me wish
that I were dead!" And to my amazement, he answered gruffly, "It's a
pity _I'm_ not," and disappeared in the dark side street.
After an actress has married and has a protector to see her safely home
nights, she is apt to recall and to tell amusing stories of her past
experiences; but I notice those tales are never told by the girls--they
only become funny when looked at from the point of perfect safety,
though like everything else in the world, the dreaded midnight walk
shows a touch of the ludicrous now and then.
I recall one snowy January night when I was returning home. It was on a
Saturday, and I had played a five-act play twice with but a sandwich for
my dinner, the weather forbidding my going home after the matinee. So
being without change to ride with, hungry and unutterably weary, I
started, bag in hand, to walk up Sixth Avenue. On the east side stood a
certain club house (it stands there yet, by the way), whose peculiar
feature was a vine-hung veranda across its entire front, from which an
unusually long flight of steps led to the sidewalk. Quite unmolested, I
had walked from the stage door almost to this building, when suddenly,
as if he had sprung from the very earth, a man was at my elbow
addressing me, and the fact that he was not English, and so not
understood, did not in the slightest degree lessen the terror his evil
face inspired. I shrank away from him, and he caught at my wrist. It was
too much. I gave a cry and started to run, when, tall and broad, a man
appeared at the foot of the club-house steps, just ahead of me. Ashamed
to be seen running, I halted, and dropped into a walk again.
Then with that exaggerated straightening of back and stiffening of knee
adopted by one who tries to walk a floor-crack or chalk-line, the second
man approached me. He was very big, he was silvery grey, and his dignity
was portentous. At every step he struck the pavement a ringing blow with
a splendid malacca cane. Old-fashioned and gold-headed, it looked enough
like its owner to have been his twin brother. He lifted his high silk
hat, and with somewhat florid indignation inquired: "My c-hild, was that
in-nfamous cur annoying you shust now? A-a-h!" he broke off,
flourishing his cane over his head, "there y-you slink; I w-wish I had
hold of you." And I heard the running footsteps of No. 1 as he darted
away, across and down the avenue.
"An-and the police?" sarcastically resumed the big man, who wavered
unsteadily now and then. "H-how useful are the police! How many do y-you
see at this moment, pray, eh? And, by the way, m' child, what in the
devil's name brings yer on the street alone at this hour, say, tell me
that?" and he assumed a most judicial attitude and manner.
I replied, "I am going home from my work, sir."
"Y-your w-what?" he growled.
"My work, sir, at the theatre."
"Good Lord!" he groaned, "and t-that crawlin' r-reptile couldn't let you
pass, you poor little soul, you!"
Upon my word, I thought he was going to weep over me. Next moment he
turned his collar up with a violence that nearly upset him, and
exclaimed: "D-don't you be a-fraid. I'll see you safely home. G-go by
yourself? not much you won't! I'll take you to your mother. S-say,
you've got a mother, haven't you? Yes, that's right; every girl's worth
anythin's got a mother. I-I'll take you to her, sure; receive maternal
thanks, a-and all that. Oh, say, boys! look here!" he shouted, and
holding out the big cane in front of me to prevent my passing, he called
to him two other men, who slowly and with almost superhuman caution were
negotiating the snowy steps.
"Say, Colonel! Judge! come here and help me p-pr'tect this un-fortunate
child." The Judge at that moment sat heavily and unintentionally down on
the bottom step, and the Colonel remarked pleasantly, though a trifle
vaguely, "T-that's the time he hit it"; while the fallen man asked
calmly from his snowy seat, "P-pr-protect what--f-from who?"
"This poor ch-i-ld from raging beasts and in-famous scoundrels, Judge,"
remarked my bombastic friend.
"We're gentlemen, my dear; and say, get the Judge up, Colonel, and start
him, and we'll _all_ see her safe home. Damn shame, a la-dy can't walk
in safety, w-without 'er body of able-bodied cit-zens to protect her!
Com'er long, now, child." And he grasped my arm and pushed me gently
The Colonel tipped his hat over one eye, gave a military salute, and
wavered back and forth. The Judge muttered something about "Honest woman
against city of New York," and something "and costs," and both fell to
And thus escorted by all these intoxicated old gallants, I made my
mortified way up the avenue, they wobbling and sliding and stammering,
and he who held my arm, I distinctly remember, recited Byron to me, and
told me many times that the Judge was "a p-perfect gentleman, and so was
This startling statement was delivered just as we reached Thirty-second
Street. Like an eel I slipped from his grasp, and whirling about, I said
as rapidly as I could speak, "I'm almost home now. I can see the light
from here, and I can't take you any farther out of your way," and I
darted down the darker street.
Looking back from my own stoop, I saw the three kindly old sinners
making salutations at the corner. My bombastic friend and the Judge had
their hats off, waving them, and the Colonel saluted with such rigid
propriety, it seems a pity that he was facing the wrong way.
I laugh, oh, yes, I laugh at the memory, until I think how silvery were
these three wine-muddled old heads, and then I feel "the pity, oh, the
pity of it!"
A BELATED WEDDING_
It was in a city in the far West that this small incident took place--a
city of the mountains still so young that some of its stateliest
business buildings of stone or marble, with plate-glass, fine furniture,
and electric lighting, were neighboured not merely by shanties, but
actually by tents.
But though high up in the mountains, the young city was neither too far
nor too high for vice to reach it; and so it came about that a certain
woman, whose gold-bought smiles had become a trifle too mocking and
satirical to be attractive, had come to the young city and placed
herself at the head of an establishment where, at command, every one
from sunset laughed and was merry, and held out hungry, grasping little
hands for the gold showered upon them--laughed, with weary, pain-filled
eyes--laughed, with stiff, tired lips sometimes--but still laughed till
sunrise--and then, well, who cared what they did _then_?
And this woman had waxed rich, and owned valuable property and much
mining stock, and was generous to those who were down on their luck, and
was quick with her revolver--as the man who tried to hold her up on a
lonely road found out to his sorrow.
Now to this city there came a certain actress, and the papers and the
theatre bills announced a performance of the old French play of
"Camille." The wealthy Madame Elize, as she styled herself, had heard
and read much of both actress and play, and knew that it was almost a
nightly occurrence for men to shed tears over two of the scenes, while
women wept deliciously through the whole play.
She determined that she would go to that performance, though the manager
assured the public, in large letters, that no one of her order could
possibly be admitted. And she declared "that she could sit out that or
any other play without tears. That no amount of play-acting could move
her, unless it was to laughter."
And so the night came, and the best seat in the best box in all that
crowded theatre was occupied by a woman of forty-five, who looked about
thirty-eight, who, but for the fixed, immovable colour in her cheeks and
her somewhat too large and too numerous diamonds, might from her black
silk, rich dark furs, and her dignified bearing have passed for an
She watched the first act with a somewhat supercilious manner, but the
second act found her wiping her eyes--very cautiously; there was that
unvarying colour to think of. The third act found her well back in the
shadow of the box curtain, and the last act she watched with a face of
such fixed determination as to attract the wondering comment of several
of the actors.
When the curtain fell, one of them remarked, "I'd like to know what that
woman will do in the next few hours?"
This is what she did. Keeping back till the house was nearly empty, she
left the theatre alone. Then she engaged a carriage--of which there were
very, very few in that city of the mountains, where the people did most
of their going and coming on horseback--and had herself conveyed to her
home, ablaze with light and full of laughter; and bidding the driver
wait, she entered quietly and went swiftly to her own apartment, where a
man in slippers and dressing-gown sat in a big armchair, sleeping over
the evening paper.
She lost no time, but aroused him at once, shaking him by the shoulder,
and in cold, curt tones ordered him "to rise and dress for the street,
and to go with her."
[Illustration: _Clara Morris in the 1st Act of "Camille"_]
But he objected, asking: "Why the deuce he should go out that bitter
night? And was she a fool, or did she take him for one?"
Upon which she had so savagely ordered him "to get on his boots, his
coat, and overcoat" that the sleepiness had vanished from his sharp
eyes, and he had exclaimed, "What is it, Kate? what's happened to you?"
And she answered: "I've had a blow--no, don't reach for your gun. I
don't mean that--but, Jim, it hurts. (Here, let me tie that for you.)
I've had a blow straight at the heart, and a woman gave it--God bless
her! (Can't you brush your hair up over that thin place? Jim--why, Jim,
upon my soul, you're grey!) Oh, hurry! here, take your fur coat--you'll
need it. Come now--no, I won't tell till we're outside this house.
Come--on the quiet, now--come," and taking him by the arm she dragged
him down the hall and stairs, and so outside the front door.
There she stopped. The man shivered at the cold, but kept his gleaming
eyes fastened on her white face, "Well?" he said.
She stood looking up at the glory of the sky above her, where the stars
glittered with extraordinary brilliancy, and in an abstracted tone she
observed, "There's the 'Dipper.'"
He watched her still silently; she went on: "Do you remember, Jim, when
I taught school down in Westbury, how we used to look at the 'Dipper'
together, because you didn't dare speak--of anything else? You got seven
dollars a week, then, and I--oh, Jim! why in God's name _didn't_ you
speak? Then I might never have come to this." She struck the lintel of
the door passionately, but went right on: "Yes--yes, I'm going to tell
you, and you've got to make a decision, right here, _now_! You'll think
I'm mad, I know; but see here now, I've got that woman's dying eyes
looking into mine; I've got that woman's voice in my ears, and her words
burnt into my living heart! I'll tell you by and by, perhaps, what
those words are, but first, my proposal: you are free to accept it, you
are free to refuse it, or you are free to curse me for a drivelling
idiot; but look you here, man, if you _laugh_ at it, I swear I'll _kill_
you! Now, will you help me out of this awful life? Jim, will you get
into that carriage and take me to the nearest minister and marry me, or
will you take this 'wad' and go down that street and out of my life
In the pause that followed they looked hard into one another's eyes.
Then the man answered in six words. Pushing away the hand that offered
him a great tight-rolled mass of paper money, he said, "Put that
away--now, come on," and they entered the carriage, and drove to the
home of a minister. There a curious thing happened. They had answered
satisfactorily the reverend gentleman's many questions before he quite
realized _who_ the woman was. When he did recognize her, he refused to
perform the ceremony, and with words of contemptuous condemnation
literally drove them from the house, and with his ecclesiastical hand
banged the door after them.
They visited another minister, and their second experience differed from
their first in two points,--the gentleman was quicker in his recognition
and refusal, and refrained from banging the door. And so they drove up
and down and across the city, till at last they stood at the carriage
door and looked helpless at each other. Then the man said, "That's the
last one, Kate," and the woman answered, "Yes, I know--I know." She drew
a long, hard breath that was not far from a sob, and added, "Yes,
they've downed me; but it wasn't a fair game, Jim, for they've played
with marked cards."
She had entered the carriage when the driver with the all-pervading
knowledge and unlimited assurance of the Western hackman remarked
genially: "Madame Elize, there's another gospel-sharp out on the edge of
the town. He's poorer than Job's turkey, and his whole dorgon'd little
scantlin' church ain't bigger than one of them Saratogy trunks, but his
people just swear by him. Shall I take you out there?"
Madame Elize nodded an assent, and once more they started. It was a long
drive. The horses strained up killing grades, sending out on the cold
air columns of steam from their dilating nostrils. The driver beat first
one hand and then the other upon his knees, and talked amicably if
profanely to his horses; but inside the carriage there was utter
At last they stopped before a poor, cold-looking little cottage, and
entering made their wishes known to a blue-eyed, tall young man, with
thin, sensitive lips, who listened with grave attention. He knew
precisely who and what she was, and very gently told her he would have
to ask one unpleasant question, "Was the man at her side acquainted with
her past, or was he a stranger who was being deceived--victimized, in
And Kate, with shining eyes, turned and said: "Tell him, Jim, how for
six honest, innocent years we were friends. Then tell him how for
fifteen years we've been partners in life. Tell him whether you know me,
Jim, or whether you're victimized."
And then the young minister had told them he was proud and thankful to
clasp their hands and start them on their new path, with God's blessing
on them. And they were married at last; and as they drove away, they
noted the strange outlines of the mountains, where they reared their
stupendous bulk against the star-sown sky. A sense of awe came upon
them--of smallness, of helplessness. Instinctively they clasped hands,
and presently the woman said: "Oh, Jim, the comfort of a wedding ring!
It circles us about so closely, and keeps out all the rest of the
And Jim stooped his head and kissed her.
SALVINI AS MAN AND ACTOR_
It is not often, I fancy, that one defends one's hero or friend from
himself. Yet that about describes what I am doing now for the famous
Salvini. An acquaintance of mine, a man self-contained and dignified,
who was reading the other day, startled me by muttering aloud, "Oh, that
mine enemy would write a book!" and a moment later, flinging the volume
from him, he cried: "Where were his friends? Why did they permit him to
write of himself?"
"Good gracious!" I exclaimed in bewilderment, "where were whose friends?
Of whom are you speaking, and why are you so excited?"
"Oh," he answered impatiently, "it's the disappointment! I judged the
man by his splendid work; but look at that book--the personal pronoun
forms one solid third of it. I know it does!" and he handed me the
volume in question.
"Well," I said, as I glanced at the title,--"Autobiography of Tommaso
Salvini,"--"no matter what the book may say, Tommaso Salvini is a mighty
actor." And then I began to read. At first I was a bit taken aback. I
had thought Mr. Macready considered himself pretty favourably, had made
a heavy demand on the I's and my's in his book; but the bouquets he
presented to himself were modest little nosegays when compared with the
gorgeous floral set pieces provided _ad libitum_ for "Signor Salvini" by
Then presently I began to smile at the open honesty of this
self-appreciation, at the naive admiration he expresses for his figure,
his voice, his power. "After all," I said, "when the whole civilized
world has for years and years affirmed and reaffirmed that he is the
greatest actor living, is it strange that he should come to believe the
"But," growled my friend, "why could he not be content with the world's
statement? Why had he no reticence? Look at these declarations: that no
words can describe his power, that everybody wished to know him, that
everybody wished to claim his friendship, that everybody made it his
boast to be seen in his company, etc."
"Well," I answered, "you certainly cannot doubt the truth of the
assertions. I believe every one of them. You see, you are not making any
allowance for temperament or early environment. Those who are humbly
born in a kingdom are lifted by a monarch's praise to the very pinnacle
of pride and joy and superiority. Think of the compliments paid this man
by royalty. Think, too, of his hot blood, his quick imagination. You
can't expect calm self-restraint from him; and just let me tell you,
for your comfort, that this 'book Salvini' is utterly unlike the kindly
gentleman who is the real, everyday Salvini."
My friend looked at me a moment, then shaking hands he added gravely:
"Thank you. The great actor goes upon his pedestal again, to my own
satisfaction; but--but--don't think I care for this book. I'll wait till
some one else tells of his triumphs and his gifts," and laying it upon
the table he took his departure.
It is astonishing what a misleading portrait Signor Salvini has drawn of
himself. I worked with him, and I found him a gentleman of modest, even
retiring, disposition and most courtly manners. He was remarkably
patient at the long rehearsals which were so trying to him because his
company spoke a language he could not understand.
The love of acting and the love of saving were veritable passions with
him, and many were the amusing stories told of his economies; but, in
spite of his personal frugality, he was generous in the extreme to his
When I had got over my first amazement at receiving a proposal to act
with the great Italian, Mr. Chizzola, his manager, stated terms, and
hastened to say that a way had been found by which the two names could
be presented without either taking preference of the other on the bill,
and that the type would of course be the same in both--questions I
should never have given a thought to, but over which my manager stood
ready to shed his heart's blood. And when I said that I should willingly
have gone on the bills as "supporting Signor Salvini," I thought he was
going to rend his garments, and he indignantly declared that such talk
was nothing less than heresy when coming from a securely established
At one of our rehearsals for the "Morte Civile," a small incident
occurred that will show how gracious Signor Salvini could be. Most
stars, having the "business" of their play once settled upon, seem to
think it veritable sacrilege to alter it, no matter how good the reason
for an alteration; and a suggestion offered to a star is generally
considered an impertinence. In studying my part of Rosalia, the
convict's wife, a very pretty bit of "business" occurred to my mind. I
was to wear the black cross so commonly seen on the breast of the Roman
peasant women, and once at an outbreak of Conrad's, I thought if I
raised that cross without speaking, and he drooped before it, it would
be effective and quite appropriate, as he was supposed to be
superstitiously devout. I mentioned it to young Salvini, who cried
eagerly, "Did you tell my father--did he see it?"
"Good heavens!" I answered, "do you suppose I would presume to suggest
'business' to a Salvini? Besides, could anything new be found for him in
a play he has acted for twenty years? No, I have not told your father,
nor do I intend to take such a liberty."
But next morning, when we came to that scene, Signor Salvini held up
his hand for a halt in the rehearsal, called for Alessandro, and,
bidding him act as interpreter, said, smiling pleasantly, to me, "Now
zee i-dee please you, madame?" for young Alessandro had betrayed my
confidence. There was a mocking sparkle in Salvini's blue eyes, but he
was politely ready to hear and reject "zee i-dee." I felt hot and
embarrassed, but I stood by my guns, and placing Alessandro in the
chair, I made him represent Conrad; and when he came to the furious
outburst, I swiftly lifted the cross and held it before his eyes till
his head sank upon my breast. But in a twinkling, with the cry, "No--no!
I show!" Salvini plucked Alessandro out of the seat, flung himself into
it, resumed the scene, and as I lifted the cross before his convulsed
features, his breath halted, slowly he lifted his face, when, divining
his meaning, I pressed the cross gently upon his trembling lips, and
with a sob his head fell weakly upon my breast. It was beautifully done;
even the actors were moved. Then he spoke rapidly to his son, who
translated to me thus: "How have I missed this 'business' all these
years? It is good--we will keep it always--tell madame that." And so,
courteously and without offence, this greatest of actors accepted a
suggestion from a newcomer in his play.
A certain English actor, who had been with him two or three seasons,
made a curious little mistake night after night, season after season,
and no one seemed to heed it. Of course Salvini, not speaking English,
could not be expected to detect the error. Where the venomous priest
should humbly bow himself out with the veiled threat, "This may yet end
in a trial--and--conviction!" the actor invariably said, "This may yet
end in a trial of convictions!" Barely three nights had passed when
Signor Salvini said to his son, "Why does Miss Morris smile at that
man's exit? It is not funny. Ask why she smiles." And he was greatly put
out with his actor when he learned the cause of my amusement. A very
observant man, you see.
He is a thinking actor; he knows _why_ he does a thing, and he used to
be very intolerant of some of the old-school "tricks of the trade."
Mind, when I was acting with him, he had come to understand fairly well
the English of our ordinary, everyday vocabulary, and if he was quite
calm and not on exhibition in any way, he could speak it a little and
quite to the point, as you will see. He particularly disliked the old,
old trick called "taking the stage," that is, when a good speech has
been made, the actor at its end crosses the stage, changing his position
for no reason on earth save to add to his own importance. It seemed
Salvini had tried through his stage manager to break up the wretched
habit; but one morning he saw an actor end his speech at the centre of
the stage, and march in front of every one to the extreme right-hand
corner. A curl came to the great actor's lip, then he said inquiringly,
"What for?" The actor stammered, "I--I--it's my cross, you know--the end
of my speech."--"Y-e-es," sweetly acquiesced the star. "Y-e-es, you
cross, I see--but what for?" The actor hesitated. "You do _so_," went on
Salvini, giving a merciless imitation of the swelling chest and stage
stride of the guilty one, as he had crossed from centre down to extreme
right. "You do so--but for _why_? A-a-ah!" Suddenly he seemed to catch
an idea. "A-a-ah! is it that you have zee business with zee people in
zee box? A-a-ah! you come spik to zose people? No? Not for that you
come? You have _no_ reason for come here, you say? Then, for God's sake,
stay centre till you _have_ a reason!"
It was an awful lesson, but what delicious acting. The simple, earnest
inquiry, the delighted catching at an idea, the following
disappointment, and the final outburst of indignant authority--he never
did anything better for the public.
During the short time we acted together but one cloud, a tiny, tiny one
of misunderstanding, rose between us, but according to reports made by
lookers-on a good deal of lightning came out of it. Of course not
understanding each other's language, we had each to watch the other as a
cat would watch a mouse, in order to take our cues correctly. At one
point I took for mine his sudden pause in a rapidly delivered speech,
and at that pause I was to speak instantly. We got along remarkably
well, for his soul was in his work, and I gave every spark of
intelligence I had in me to the effort to satisfy him; so by the fifth
or sixth performance we both felt less anxiety about the catching of our
cues than we had at first. On the night I speak of, some one on
Salvini's side of the stage greatly disturbed him by loud whispering in
the entrance. He was nervous and excitable, the annoyance (of which I
was unconscious) threw him out of his stride, so to speak. He glanced
off warningly and snapped his fingers. No use; on went the giggling and
whispering. At last, in the very middle of a speech, wrath overcame him.
He stopped dead. That sudden stop was my cue. Instantly I spoke. Good
heaven! he whirled upon me like a demon. I understood that a mistake had
been made, but it was not mine. I knew my cue when I got it. The humble
Rosalia was forgotten. With hot resentment my head went up and back with
a fling, and I glared savagely back at him. A moment we stood in silent
rage. Then his face softened, he laid the fingers of his left hand on
his lips, extending his right with that unspeakably deprecating
upturning of the palm known only to the foreign-born. An informing
glance of the eye toward the right, followed by a faint "_Pardon_!" was
enough. I dropped back to meek Rosalia, the scene was resumed, the cloud
had passed. But one man who had been looking on said: "By Jove! you
know, you two looked like a pair of blue-eyed devils, just ready to rend
each other. Talk about black-eyed rage; it's the lightning of the blue
eyes that sears every time."
I had been quite wild to see Signor Salvini on his first visit to
America, and at last I caught up with him in Chicago, and was so happy
as to find my opportunity in an extra matinee. The play was "Othello,"
and during the first act he looked not only a veritable Moor, but, what
was far greater, he seemed to be Shakespeare's own "Moor of Venice." The
splendid presence, the bluff, soldierly manner, the open, honest look,
as the "round unvarnished tale" was delivered, made one understand,
partly at least, how "that maiden never bold, a spirit so still and
quiet," had come at last to see "_Othello's_ visage _in his mind_, and
to his honour and his valiant parts to consecrate her fortune and her
soul!" Through all the noble scene, through all the soldierly dignity
and candid speech, there was that tang of roughness that so naturally
clung to the man whose life from his seventh year had been passed in
the "tented field," and who himself declared, "Rude am I in speech, and
little bless'd with the set phrase of peace."
In short, Salvini was a delight to eye and ear, and satisfied both
imagination and judgment in that first act. Like many people who are
much alone, I have the habit of speaking sometimes to myself--a habit I
repented of that day, yes, verily I did; for when, at Cyprus, Othello
entered and fiercely swept into his swarthy arms the pale loveliness of
Desdemona, 'twas like a tiger's spring upon a lamb. The bluff and honest
soldier, the English Shakespeare's Othello, was lost in an Italian
Othello. Passion choked, his gloating eyes burned with the mere lust of
the "sooty Moor" for that white creature of Venice. It was revolting,
and with a shiver I exclaimed aloud, "Ugh, you splendid brute!"
Realizing my fault, I drew quickly back into the shadow of the curtain;
but a man's rough voice had answered instantly, "Make it a _beast_,
ma'am, and I'm with you!" I was cruelly mortified.
[Illustration: _Tommaso Salvini_]
But there was worse to happen that day. The leading lady, Signora
Piamonti, an admirable actress, was the Desdemona. She played the part
remarkably well, and was a fairly attractive figure to the eye, if one
excepted her foot. It was exceptionally long and shapeless, and was most
vilely shod. Her dresses, too, all tipped up in the front, unduly
exposing the faulty members; many were the comments made, and often the
query followed, "Why doesn't she get some American shoes?" I am sorry to
say that some of our daily papers even were ungracious enough to refer
to that physical defect, when only her work should have been considered
The actors had reached the last act. The bed stood in the centre of a
shallow alcove, heavily curtained. These hangings were looped up at the
beginning of the act, and were supposed to fall to the floor, completely
concealing the bed and its occupant after the murder. The actor had
long before become again Shakespeare's Othello. We had seen him
tortured, racked, and played upon by the malignant Iago; seen him, while
perplexed in the extreme, irascible, choleric, sullen, morose; but now,
as with tense nerves we waited for the catastrophe, he was truly
formidable. The great tragedy moved on. Desdemona's piteous entreaties
had been choked in her slim throat, the smothering pillow held in place
with merciless strength. Then at Emilia's disconcerting knock and demand
for admission, Othello had let down and closely drawn the two curtains.
But alas and alack a day! though they were thick and rich and wide, they
failed to reach the floor by a good foot's breadth--a fact unnoticed by
the star. You may not be an actor; but really when you add to that
twelve or fourteen-inch space the steep incline of the stage--why, you
can readily understand how advisable it was for the dead Desdemona that
day to stay dead until the play was over.
Majestically Othello was striding down to the door, where Emilia was
knocking for admittance, when there came that long in-drawn breath--that
"a-a-h!" that from the auditorium always means mischief--and a sudden
bobbing of heads this way and that in the front seats. In an instant the
great actor felt the broken spell, knew he had lost his hold upon the
people--but why? He went on steadily, and then, just as you have seen a
field of wheat surged in one wave by the wind, I saw the closely packed
people in that wide parquet sway forward in a great gust of laughter.
With quick, experienced eye I scanned first Othello's garb from top to
toe, and finding no unseemly rent or flaw of any kind to provoke
laughter, I next swept the stage. Coming to the close-drawn curtains, I
saw--heavens! No wonder the people laughed. The murdered Desdemona had
risen, was evidently sitting on the side of the bed; for beneath the
curtains her dangling feet alone were plainly seen, kicking cheerfully
back and forth. Such utterly unconscious feet they were that I think the
audience would not have laughed again had they kept still; but all at
once they began a "heel-and-toe step," and people rocked back and forth,
trying to suppress their merriment. And then--oh, Piamonti!--swiftly the
toe of the right foot went to the back of the left ankle and scratched
vigorously. Restraint was ended, every one let go and laughed and
laughed. From the box I saw in the entrance the outspread fingers, the
hoisted shoulders, the despairingly shaken heads of the Italian actors,
who could find no cause for the uproar. Salvini behaved perfectly in
that, disturbed, distressed, he showed no sign of anger, but maintained
his dignity through all, even when in withdrawing the curtains and
disclosing Desdemona dead once more the incomprehensible laughter again
broke out. But late as it was and short the time left him, he got the
house in hand again, again wove his charm, and sent the people away sick
and shuddering over his too real self-murder.
As I was leaving the box I met one connected with the management of the
theatre, who, furious over the _faux pas_, was roughly denouncing the
actress, whom he blamed entirely, and I took it upon myself to suggest
that he pour a vial or two of his wrath upon the heads of his own
property man and the stage manager, who had grossly neglected their duty
in failing to provide curtains of the proper length. And I chuckled with
satisfaction as I saw him plunge behind the scenes, calling angrily upon
some invisible Jim to come forth. I had acted as a sort of lightning-rod
for a sister actress.
Salvini's relations with his son were charming, though it sounded a bit
odd to hear the stalwart young man calling him "papa." Alessandro had
dark eyes and black hair, so naturally admired the opposite colouring,
and I never heard him speak of his father's English second wife without
some reference to her fairness. It would be "my blond mamma," "my little
fair mamma," "my father's pretty English wife," or "before my little
blond mamma died." He felt the "mamma" and "papa" jarred on American
ears, and often corrected himself; but when Signor Salvini himself once
told me a story of his father, he referred to him constantly as "my
papa," just as he does in this book of his that makes him seem so
egotistical and so determined to find at all costs the vulnerable spot,
the weak joint in the armour, of all other actors.
Certainly he could not have been an egotist in the bosom of his family.
A friend in London went to call upon his young wife, his "white lily."
She was showing the house to her visitor, when, pausing suddenly before
a large portrait of her famous husband, she became silent, her uplifted
eyes filled, her lips smiled tremulously, she gave a little gasp, and
whispered, "Oh, he's almost like God to me!"
The friend, startled, even shocked, was about to reprove her, but a
glance into the innocent face showed no sacrilege had been meant, only
she had never been honoured, protected, happy, before--and some women
worship where they love. Could an egotist win and keep such affection
and gratitude as that?
Among those who complain of his opinionated book I am amused to find one
who fairly exhausted himself in praise, not to say flattery, of this
same Salvini. It is very diverting to the mere looker-on, when the world
first proclaims some man a god, bowing down and worshipping him, and
then anathematizes him if he ventures to proclaim his own godship. I
have my quarrel with the book, I confess it. I am sorry he does not show
how he did his tremendous work, show the nature of those sacrifices he
made. How one would enjoy a word-picture of the place where he obtained
his humble meals in those earliest days of struggle; who shared them,
and in what spirit they were discussed, grave or gay! Italian life is
apt to be picturesque, and these minor circumstances mean much when one
tries to get at the daily life of a man. But Salvini has given us merely
splendid results, without showing us _how_ he obtained them. Yet what a
lesson the telling would have been for some of our indolent actors! Why,
even at the zenith of his career, Salvini attended personally to duties
most actors leave to their dressers. He used to be in his dressing-room
hours before the overture was on, and in an ancient gown he would polish
his armour, his precious weapons or ornaments, arrange his wigs, examine
every article of dress he would require that night, and consequently he
never had mishaps. He used to say: "The man there? Oh, yes, he can pack
and lock and strap and check, but only an actor can understand the care
of these artistic things. What I do myself is well done; this work is
part of my profession; there is no shame in doing it. And all the time I
work, I think--I think of the part--till I have all forgot--_all_ but
just that part's self."
And yet, O dear, these are the things he does not put in his book. When
he was all dressed and ready for the performance, Salvini would go into
a dark place and walk and walk and walk; sometimes droopingly, sometimes
with martial tread. Once, I said, "You walk far, signor?"
"_Si, signorina_," he made answer, then eagerly, "_I walk me into him!_"
And while the great man was "walking into the character," the actors who
supported him smoked cigarettes at the stage door until the dash for
dressing room and costume.
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